I want to start this piece by saying how much I enjoy my career. The time I spent in the Library and Information Technology diploma program at the University of the Fraser Valley was enjoyable and I learned a lot both about myself and my future career.
As I started to prepare for the panel session at the 2015 BC Library Conference I found myself reflecting on what it means to be a library technician, the education we go through, and the careers that are open to us. This isn’t something I do regularly but found it be to a good “check in” with where I am in my career and where I might want to be down the road. Thinking about the intersection of the two qualifications (librarian and library technician) within the library profession is another topic that I spent some time thinking about, and the bigger picture of libraries.
Some of my thoughts on these subjects may not be surprising or unique. To echo a fellow panelist “we are one profession with two credentials”. If library technicians and librarians are working in the same field with the same goals, why is there this divide between us? Is part of it a simple lack of understanding surrounding each other’s skills, education, and interest? Going through school I was told to be prepared for some resentment and push back from my potential library colleagues. Are librarians given “the talk” about how technicians may be looking to “steal” their jobs? Why is this even a topic for discussion? Since we are all part of the same profession, there should not be this animosity; we should be working together within our institutions.
I have heard from librarian colleagues that there is a fear of de-professionalization. This fear in not isolated to the librarian career path, library technicians also worry and wonder about their chosen field. Looking at the job market and career opportunities can be depressing at times. While at ACRL (Association of College and Research Libraries) conference in Portland this past March, I heard many schools talk about using graduate students on the Reference Desk instead of trained professionals to reduce costs and give librarians more time for projects and individual consultations (disclaimer: these statements were from American schools). This came as a surprise to me since I know library technicians who are not given shifts on reference desks, a service point staffed solely by librarians and my first thought was “why wouldn’t you want a library technician hired to work on the desk to allow librarians to focus more time on other duties”. In addition to that situation, some libraries don’t require a technician diploma to work on a circulation desk, potentially taking jobs away from graduates of a library program. Similar to a newly graduated librarian, library technicians face a rough economy with libraries experiencing budget and staff cuts, and part time and/or temporary work. Technicians are worried about their careers, and the job market is topic of interest for current students and recent graduates.
What’s my point with that? Rather than drawing a line in the sand dividing our shared profession, we should be working together to strengthen it. We should be educating our managers, community, and stakeholders of the library about the similarities and differences of our educational paths. We should be highlighting how a library benefits from having both technicians and librarians on staff, and collaborate on making our work environments a welcoming place. Because, when you really come down to it, aren’t we all in this profession for the same reason?